Notre Dame ready to deal with extended break

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Notre Dame ready to deal with extended break

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The grind of a season can take its toll on a team as the games pile up, but now, Notre Dame has a completely different issue to deal with: a 44-day layoff between games.

An upshot of playing in the season's final game is the lengthy layoff, which for Notre Dame began when the clock hit zero on Nov. 24 in Los Angeles and won't end until the night of Jan. 7 in South Florida.

Notre Dame players filed into the Gug Sunday to watch the BCS selection show wearing shirts boasting the team's "unfinished business." Those aren't an unfortunate homage to Matt Barkley and USC's preseason motto, but instead a motivational slogan for the team's extended break.

"Were not taking this period off, were not taking a break," safety Zeke Motta said. "Were going to get after it and let our bodies heal given the proper amount of time, but were still going to be doing some stuff to make sure that were going to be on our A-game."

For last week and this week, that means conditioning and weight training, as well as letting players get caught up on classwork as finals week begins Dec. 10. The team's first bowl practice is Friday, giving them a month of preparation -- minus six days for Christmas between Dec. 21-27 -- for the BCS Championship.

These are uncharted waters for Brian Kelly, who spoke to coaches at LSU and Oregon about their preparation for the last two BCS Championships.

"We were pretty much right on with what we thought the schedule should look like leading in to the championship game," Kelly said. "Its a one-game deal. Were just trying to be better than Alabama on Monday, Jan. 7. Our entire focus will be on a one-game season, trying to be better on Monday, Jan. 7. We dont want to be better than Alabama on the 27th of December."

Alabama coach Nick Saban is a veteran at dealing with these championship breaks, and will guide the Tide through them for the third time in four years. When asked about the plan for layoffs on a conference call with both coaches Sunday, Kelly joked he wanted Saban to answer the question first to get an idea of how Alabama has succeeded in December and January preparation.

"The way we try to do it, youre so far removed from the season to the bowl game, especially when you play Jan. 7 in the National Championship game, we try to look at it like its a one-game season," Saban explained. "Let the players finish the semester, do weight training and conditioning for the next couple weeks and then we start to have some fundamental practices, camp-like -- like fall camp. Take a few days off for Christmas, come back and start getting ready for the game in terms of challenges that Notre Dame presents to our team."

That plan sounds right about in line with Kelly's. But no matter how long the break is between games, getting players motivated in practice won't be a battle Notre Dame's coaches will have to fight.

"Its the National Championship, so I dont care if we have to prepare for two months," defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said. "Youre playing for all the marbles."

White Sox: Jake Petricka hopes DL stint is short

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White Sox: Jake Petricka hopes DL stint is short

Jake Petricka will have to resume some mechanical work with Don Cooper as soon as he’s healthy.

With hip tightness he’s experienced in the early part of the season continuing to linger, the White Sox reliever went on the 15-day disabled on Thursday. Petricka has a right-hip impingement and seems optimistic that rest and treatment should have him on the mend quickly.

“I have a little history of tight IT bands,” Petricka said. “I just thought it was part of the normal wear and tear, so I upped my other stuff to take care of it and it just kept coming back and coming back and it kinda hit a point.

“It sucks being on the DL, but I think Herm (Schneider) will take care of me and get it cleaned out and be good to go when I get back.”

Petricka described the injury as a minor ailment. With treatment, he can avoid a worse future injury. But he needs at least a week off, which forced the White Sox to place him on the DL.

Petricka has struggled with command early in the season. He has issued eight walks and allowed eight hits in eight innings, which has resulted in a 4.50 ERA. The right-hander said he and Cooper have begun to try and make some corrections and he hopes to get back to it shortly.

“I felt good,” Petricka said. “Obviously, location has been off. We were looking at mechanics and stuff with Coop and we were getting into a good groove of figuring stuff out and this kind of popped up. We’ll pick up right where we left off when we’re done with this.”

Lackey's 'country hardball' leads to 11 strikeouts in win over Nationals

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Lackey's 'country hardball' leads to 11 strikeouts in win over Nationals

John Lackey struck out 11 hitters for the second time this season Friday.

He had a slightly different way of describing it:

“We’re going to play a little country hardball and figure it out.”

The “country hardball” was working well for Lackey, who punched out nearly a dozen Washington Nationals in the Cubs’ 8-6 win at Wrigley Field, matching a season high in whiffs and earning his fourth win of the year.

After surrendering a pair of early runs, Lackey settled in nicely, allowing just two hits in his final five innings of work. Getting a ton of assistance from his offense certainly helped, the Cubs digging out of that early 2-0 hole by bashing four home runs against Nationals ace Max Scherzer.

Given Scherzer’s fate, Lackey’s performance on a day when the ball was soaring out of the Friendly Confines was particularly impressive. So too was his second 11-strikeout game of 2016 after not reaching that number in any game last season with the Cardinals.

“It was definitely a day for the hitters. A little warmer, wind blowing the other direction. It was a tough challenge today, for sure, with a good lineup, and I was fortunate to get a few strikeouts,” Lackey said. “You never know with the fly ball when things are like that around here.

“You’re going to have to miss some bats in this ballpark, especially later on in the summer when it warms up. Obviously it’s not a great place to pitch some days when the wind’s blowing out. It can play pretty small. Today I was fortunate.”

The Cubs’ hitters will take the headlines and make the highlight shows, an unsurprising result when Ben Zobrist hits four homers in three games and the Cubs boast a mind-boggling plus-98 run differential.

But that run differential and the Cubs’ success in general — 22 wins in their first 28 games of the season — wouldn’t be possible without elite pitching. Jake Arrieta’s credentials are well known, as are Jon Lester’s, and Jason Hammel has dazzled, too, with a 1.24 ERA.

Lackey has maybe seemed the odd man out with an ERA north of 4.00, but he’s shone in more than half his starts this season. In fact, he’s finding the confines at Wrigley to be quite friendly, owning a 2-0 record and a 2.49 ERA in three home starts. He’s gone at least seven innings in three of his last four starts and has a team-high 40 strikeouts on the season.

Make no mistake, every piece of this five-man rotation is pulling his weight, and Lackey is no exception.

“I’ve been in a few rotations, I try to handle my own business,” Lackey said. “We definitely root for each other hard. Jake’s on another level right now doing his thing. It’s a great group, it’s a fun group to hang out with and we work hard in the weight room, push each other. And then whoever’s day is that day, I’m their biggest fan, and I hope everybody does well.”

Lackey also became the fifth active pitcher to reach 2,000 career strikeouts, an achievement he chalked up to being old.

“I guess it means I’m old and been around a while, done a few things.”

The truth is that Lackey has “done a few things,” and it’s why he’s here. Theo Epstein’s front office brought Lackey in this winter because of his pedigree, which includes a pair of World Series rings and a dominating performance against this very Cubs lineup in Game 1 of last year’s NLDS.

Lackey signed on for the same reason the other big-name free agents did this offseason: This Cubs team has a chance to make his jewelry collection even more impressive.

With the Cubs owning the title of baseball’s best team almost 30 games into this season, is it time to start comparing this group with Lackey’s past title-winning squads?

“It’s a little early to get too crazy,” Lackey said. “Let’s play a little baseball.”

Injury Report: White Sox, Cubs weekly update

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Injury Report: White Sox, Cubs weekly update

Each week, CSNChicago.com takes a look at the injury report from both the Cubs and White Sox, presented by Service King.

WHITE SOX

- Catchers Alex Avila (strained hamstring) and Kevan Smith (back) were sent to the 15-day disabled list on April 24. On Friday, Avila started his rehab assignment in Triple-A Charlotte. Smith is in Glendale, Ariz. rehabbing his injury.

- Daniel Webb went to the 15-day DL on April 29 for right elbow flexor inflammation.

- Jake Petricka hit the 15-day DL with a right hip impingement.

CUBS

- Jason Heyward returned to the field mid-game on Thursday night after Dexter Fowler was ejected in the third inning against the Washington Nationals. Heyward, who missed three games due to a wrist injury, started for the first time in four contests on Friday, going 1-for-3 with a double and a walk.

- Matt Szczur was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday with a strained right hamstring.

- Miguel Montero is eligible to return from the DL next Tuesday but Joe Maddon isn't sure if he needs a rehab stint. Montero landed on the DL on April 25 with back stiffness.